After last season's surprise first place finish in the Eastern Conference, hockey fans in Montreal had high expectations for this year's 100th anniversary season. Nothing less then a Stanley Cup would satisfy the fans of the bleu, blanc et rouge. As the Canadians fight for their playoff lives their party plans appear to be unravelling. The headlines in Montreal have been filled with the off-ice antics of key players. Questions continue to swirl around star forward Alex Kovalev and his lacklustre effort. General Manager Bob Gainey has his hands full with numerous unrestricted free agents and coaching duties after firing Guy Carbonneau and stepping behind the bench himself. It seemed fitting in a season filled with more low points then high points that Montreal's "goalie of the future" Carey Price, was the backup to Jaroslav Halak Saturday, March 15th as history was made at the Bell Centre.
In a script that could be straight from Hollywood, New Jersey Devils goalie and Montreal native Martin Brodeur returned to Montreal Saturday night in his quest to break the record for most regular season victories by a goaltender. With Patrick Roy in attendance, the Habs fans witnessed a 3-1 New Jersey win and Roy's once unbeatable record was tied by Brodeur. After booing the Canadians off the ice at the end of the game, the twenty-one thousand fans rose to their feet to salute Brodeur's accomplishment with a lengthy standing ovation. Personally, it is the only time I can recall a visiting team leaving the ice with a victory in Montreal to a cheering crowd. Montrealers love their hockey and they know their history. Could there have been a more perfect setting to join St. Patrick in the record books? In a strange twist of fate, Brodeur can take sole possession of the record on St. Patrick's Day with a win at home over another original six team - the Chicago Blackhawks.
With the record about to be broken, the great debate among the hockey analysts on television, radio, print and the internet has become who is the better goaltender - Roy or Brodeur? Who is the best clutch performer? Who would you want in nets for the big game? In my opinion, it is impossible to pick one over the other at this time. Brodeur has spent his entire career with the Devils, perhaps the most defensively minded franchise in NHL history. Many observers feel Roy won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993 for Montreal by himself. Brodeur was pure gold in nets for Canada at the 2002 Olympic games while Roy was only average in 1998 at the Nagano games. Head to head, it was Roy's Colorado Avalanche beating Brodeur's Devils in game seven of the 2001 Stanley Cup finals. Brodeur gained some extra wins in the shoot-out era but he reached 551 in 43 less games.
While they have never been best of friends, Roy's attendance for win number 551 and the comments from both goalies after the game demonstrated the level of respect shared between the two. Both understand how difficult it is to win one game in the NHL and what an accomplishment it is to reach 551.
Roy made this comment on being at the Bell Centre in a Canadian Press article, "I'm sure Marty is excited to have it happen in his hometown, in front of his family. One day I'll say to my grandchildren that I was there to see it."
Brodeur on Roy - also from the Canadian Press, "He's a guy I looked up to when I was young. And now, tying the record of your idol, that's pretty cool. Not many athletes have a chance to do that."
Let's take a look at their career numbers...
Roy, drafted 51st overall in the third round of the draft in 1984, played 1029 regular season games. His win/loss record is 551-315-131-0 with a 2.54 goals against average. He was Rookie of the Year in 1985, he won the Jennings trophy for fewest goals against as a team 5 times and the Vezina as best goalie 3 times. He won the Conn Smythe 3 times as playoff MVP on his way to 4 Stanley Cups in 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2001.
Brodeur was drafted in the first round, 20th overall by New Jersey in 1990. Going into tonight's game he has played 986 games and has a record of 551-293-105-22 with a 2.20 goals against average. Brodeur also won Rookie of the Year honours in 1994, the Jennings 4 times and the Vezina 4 times. His Devils were Stanley Cup winners in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and are expected by many observers to battle the Boston Bruins in this year's Eastern Conference final. Another record is about to fall to Brodeur as well - Terry Sawchuck's record for career shutouts; Sawchuck retired with 103, Brodeur is only three back with 100 career shutouts.
Patrick Roy holds the record for combined regular season and playoff victories with 702. Brodeur has 644 and will certainly reach Roy's milestone sometime next season. St. Patrick will keep his record of 13 straight seasons with 30 or more wins as Brodeur's streak ends at 12 this season due to the time he missed with an elbow injury.
By the time his career is over, we may be saying without hesitation that Martin Brodeur is the best goalie in the history of the NHL. The doors to the Hockey Hall of Fame will be wide open for Brodeur upon his retirement. However, in ten or twelve years time, we may be watching Steve Mason attempt to break his idol's records. For now though, the history books have an equal place for Saint Patrick and Saint Martin... Have a great sports day everyone.